The external subunit of the human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) envelope glycoprotein (Env), gp120, contains conserved regions that mediate sequential interactions with two cellular receptor molecules, CD4 and a chemokine receptor, most commonly CCR5 or CXCR4. However, antibody accessibility to such regions is hindered by diverse protective mechanisms, including shielding by variable loops, conformational flexibility and extensive glycosylation. For the conserved neutralization epitopes hitherto described, antibody accessibility is reportedly unrelated to the viral coreceptor usage phenotype. Here, we characterize a novel, conserved gp120 neutralization epitope, recognized by a murine monoclonal antibody (MAb), D19, which is differentially accessible in the native HIV-1 Env according to its coreceptor specificity. The D19 epitope is contained within the third variable (V3) domain of gp120 and is distinct from those recognized by other V3-specific MAbs. To study the reactivity of MAb D19 with the native oligomeric Env, we generated a panel of PM1 cells persistently infected with diverse primary HIV-1 strains. The D19 epitope was conserved in the majority (23/29; 79.3%) of the subtype-B strains tested, as well as in selected strains from other genetic subtypes. Strikingly, in CCR5-restricted (R5) isolates, the D19 epitope was invariably cryptic, although it could be exposed by addition of soluble CD4 (sCD4); epitope masking was dependent on the native oligomeric structure of Env, since it was not observed with the corresponding monomeric gp120 molecules. By contrast, in CXCR4-using strains (X4 and R5X4), the epitope was constitutively accessible. In accordance with these results, R5 isolates were resistant to neutralization by MAb D19, becoming sensitive only upon addition of sCD4, whereas CXCR4-using isolates were neutralized regardless of the presence of sCD4. Other V3 epitopes examined did not display a similar divergence in accessibility based on coreceptor usage phenotype. These results provide the first evidence of a correlation between HIV-1 biological phenotype and neutralization sensitivity, raising the possibility that the in vivo evolution of HIV-1 coreceptor usage may be influenced by the selective pressure of specific host antibodies.
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